Salt industry

Salt is one of the most historically important industries in the North West, and coastal workings that produced salt by the ‘direct boiling’ process have been documented in Cumbria, with the remains of a large seawater tank and associated brine pond on the coats near Maryport providing a fine example. Similar works have been recorded around the mouths of the rivers Dee (CH) and Mersey (M), whilst documentary evidence attests to an active salt production on the estuary of the River Wyre (L) in the 17th century.

The availability of salt as an extracted mineral from inland works is one of the distinctive features of the North West, epitomised by the Cheshire ‘salt towns’ of Northwich, Middlewich and Nantwich, which were noted for their natural brine springs, where brine pits were developed. Brine was stored in cisterns or tanks, where any solid material was allowed to settle before being transferred to evaporating pans. Mines began to be established around Northwich during the late 17th century, following the discovery of rock salt at Marbury at depths of approximately 45m in 1670. Subsequent activity, or subsidence caused from extracting brine, has resulted in the loss of the early mining sites, although structural remains of the 18th-century Croft Salt Works were uncovered during the redevelopment of the former Magistrates’ Court in the centre of Northwich in 2013. These remains included a brick-lined well that had probably formed a brine shaft sunk into the aquifer, together with fragmentary elements of a later pan house and pump house (Mottershead 2015).

The most dramatic remains of the historic salt-producing industry to be discovered in the early 21st century, however, are those uncovered at Second Wood Street in Nantwich (Ch). This work revealed well-preserved timber structures and a range of artefacts connected with the extensive salt industry from the late 13th century through to the late 17th or early 18th century, adding substantially to the growing body of evidence for the town’s post-medieval salt industry of the town (Dodd et al 2014). Further remains were recorded in the area during excavations for a gas main renewal in 2007, including a timber trackway that was dated to the second half of the 13th century. A useful article presenting an integrated account of these excavations was brought to publication in 2014 (ibid).

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